I've used an Xbox One daily since its release nearly two years ago. It's been a painful experience. You'll usually find me shouting at my Kinect to make it understand my English accent, or swearing profusely after the friends app randomly refreshes and loses my place as I'm scrolling. I get particularly angry (sorry neighbors) when the party app crashes for the fifth time in a day. It's easy to blame Windows 8, the operating system that has powered the Xbox One for two years, but the problems run much deeper.
Microsoft picked a weird app model for the Xbox One which meant things like viewing a friends list required you to open a separate app. It has been slow, cumbersome, and buggy for the past two years. Thankfully, Microsoft has learned from its mistakes and it has a fix: make the Xbox One more like the Xbox 360.
The Xbox One works a lot more like the Xbox 360 now
An update will roll out to Xbox One consoles worldwide today that brings a new dashboard experience, a focus on speed, and the ability to play 104 old Xbox 360 games. Backwards compatibility is a hugely impressive feat in and of itself, but Microsoft is also replicating the work it did with the Xbox 360 guide, and giving it an overhaul for the new Xbox One. Instead of launching separate friends, party, and messages apps, there's a single guide that is always available if you double-tap the Xbox button on a controller.
Everything is just so much faster
I've been testing the update for a month, and I never want to go back to the old system. It took a few hours to get used to the new navigation, but my swearing levels have dropped dramatically and my neighbors no longer think I'm a football hooligan. Jokes aside, everything is just so much faster. Microsoft has paid attention to the small things, and they really matter. If I'm in the friends list I can hit the X button as I'm hovered over a friend to immediately invite them to a party, and accessing the friends list is the default when you double-tap.
The previous dashboard always felt like it was designed for the Kinect, with settings hidden away and apps designed so you'd shout at your TV to open them. Microsoft has ripped out the annoying Kinect gestures that would occasionally trigger if you moved your hands, and the new dashboard is now a lot more controller friendly. You can still use voice controls, but you can also switch between friends, party, messages, and settings just by gliding down the various panels in the guide instead of launching separate apps. There's even quick settings to disable the Kinect microphone for party chats or to reboot your console. Even snapping apps feels smoother.
Microsoft's new dashboard isn't perfect, though, and the company has a list of known issues. I still have some issues with parties crashing occasionally, and TV integration seems to stutter more often since the update. Those are minor issues compared to the giant problems I had with the Xbox One dashboard before. Just like Windows 10 itself, Microsoft isn't finished with this new dashboard. A series of updates will roll out in the coming months, and Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant will make its way to the console next year.
More updates and apps arriving next year
It feels like Microsoft is now recovering from its giant Xbox One launch mess, and the company has the right focus for its games console. Backwards compatibility was a surprise for this dashboard, and its speed and features have moved the Xbox One away from most of its various pain points. Microsoft now has the ability to bring true Windows universal apps to its Xbox One, and those should start rolling out to the console next year. If Microsoft has some more Xbox surprises for 2016 then it could finally be an exciting time to own an Xbox One.
Verge Video: Hands-on with the Xbox One Elite controller